Help with Death
January 1, 2017 1:33 PM   Subscribe

My father died last night after a very long illness. My brain isn't working well right now, so I'm asking the Hive Mind for some help. I think I have the basics under control for now, but it's the next couple of months that I need advice for. Details inside.

After dealing with kidney failure for many years, and then a raft of heart problems, Dad had a stroke just before Christmas Eve and passed away last night aged 85. I'll be heading out today to collect my mother and then go to the hospital to see him and collect his possessions etc. He had a pre-paid funeral organised, and we're clear on his wishes, so that immediate need is taken care of. And I'm reasonably well organised with regard to official procedures re wills, death notices etc.

However, what I need to know from you guys is this; what small or unexpected problems appeared when your family member died, and what things should have been done at the time that weren't. This could be official things or social stuff - anything that a bit of organisation and forethought could have prevented.

Things that I've already thought of:
- send a message to his many specialists to cancel his appointments and to update their records
- take his vast collection of medication to the chemist to dispose of it
- organise professional cleaners to go through the house while Mum is out so she doesn't have to do it
- organise a professional company to go through his huge shed and 60 years worth of collected junk (6 car garage, only 2 cars fit in it - you know how that works)

Further info;
- we'll probably have to sell the house at some point as Mum wants to move into a retirement home, but this isn't urgent
- I have power of attorney for both parents in case something goes pear-shaped
- I'm an only child but I have a lot of extended family via my husband that I can lean on if needed
- Dad has a brother who deliberately broke contact with him for reasons Dad wasn't clear on (we're fine with telling Uncle Crackpot to go to hell)
- We live (and died) in Australia - New South Wales to be precise.
posted by ninazer0 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I am sorry for your loss. My mom was an only child, and it is rough handling parental illness and death by yourself.

If your father was an officer in any organization, his fellows will want any records or official-business types of materials in his possession.

Get a security system, including a fire alarm, for the house.

Good luck to you and your mom!
posted by jgirl at 1:43 PM on January 1, 2017

After my father passed (here in the US), it took my mom several months to go through and close all of his accounts and notify the shared accounts that my mother was now the sole account holder. This required A LOT of copies of the death certificate, and it seemed like everyone wanted an original. So when the funeral or hospital people ask how many copies you want, make a list of everything with his name on it and overestimate. You can always order more but it can take time. My dad had a lot of investments/property/accounts and had been in the military and I think she ended up getting like ten copies.

My best to you and your family. You're asking good questions.
posted by mochapickle at 1:45 PM on January 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

To echo mochapickle - be sure and get multiple copies of the death certificate. Depending on whether your dad owned bank and/or brokerage accounts, had a private pension, basically just about anything money related - they wanted originals of the death certificate. So get lots!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:48 PM on January 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Let any groups he was a member of know he's passed --- things like veteran's organizations, professional affiliations, even stuff like bowling leagues.

My sympathies to your and your mom. As far as grieving goes, everyone does it their own way: there is no one 'right' way that you are required to follow. Some folks cry (now or later), some don't; it hits everyone differently. And it probably won't be all over within some set period; it's been 12 years since my mom died and 11 since my dad, and I still have moments where I think, "I should tell them --- oh, yeah. Sigh." Take however much time you need, and remember to take care of yourself as well as your mom.
posted by easily confused at 1:54 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry. You seem to be in top of things. My only thought was to make sure your mother is on board with clearing the shed/garage. You've probably talked to her about how she wants to tackle this and it is clearly a job that needs to be tackled but she may have different ideas about when and how.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:59 PM on January 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm very sorry for your loss. You seem to be pretty smart and on top of things, but I'll add a few random things I encountered when our dad died. (and nthing getting many copies of the death certificate)

- contacting the library and seeing what he had checked out - looking for, and returning those items
- canceling his gym membership
- notifying car insurance company
- getting into his e-mail account to notify contacts or see if we missed something
- our dad lived alone, so going through things was a big task. The garage was full of random household and auto chemicals, lawn/yard stuff, that needed special disposal at a county waste site (ie, not just thrown in the trash)
- it is VERY hard figuring out what to keep, what to donate, and what to throw away. Prioritize what's really important. Start with one room at a time. Color code if necessary.
- outsource what you can.
- all of this stuff can be exhausting, so please please make sure you do some things that are kind for yourself, whatever those things may be. Therapy, exercise, writing, getting a massage, whatever. The grief will come in doses, as it does for most people. And it's easy to distract it with a mountain of "tasks" - but once in a regular while, do nice things for yourself and things that make you happy and/or comforted in your own way during this process
posted by raztaj at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

So sorry for your loss.

I'm all out of parents myself, so I've done the work you're about to start. A couple of additions to all the good points above:

- I think of wrapping up a person's estate in terms of the practical and the emotional. Sounds like you're focused on the practical, and like you have a good handle on it. You're well ahead of the game, good for you.

The emotional side can be a bit tricky too, though. You might spend some time thinking about the stories and artifacts that are important to you, before you go through his possessions. Maybe even give yourself some time with the question, if you don't have to sort things immediately. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the things you find, remember, or even discover. If you have a list of what you know you want, it'll be easier to resist the temptation to save every little scrap that gives you the warm feeling of him.

- The practical stuff took way longer than I thought it would. I needed to open an account for my mother's estate, to keep it separate from my personal finances, while everything was being settled. The paperwork from all her banks, insurance, retirement accounts, etc. took over a year to be completed. Now, almost 5 years later, we're aaaalmost done with the waiting periods to avoid tax consequences on certain investments. Just be prepared to not be able to cross everything off your list by the time you're ready for the bureaucratic BS to be over with.

- Horrible to think about, I know, but see if you can start working with your mom now to compile a list of all of the accounts, passwords, subscriptions, debts, safe deposit boxes, and monthly payments you'll have to take over when she's no longer up to running her household. Best to know what they all are, so you can help her and so you're not surprised later in the midst of your grief. Sounds like you might think to do this on your own, I'm here to tell you it's an amazing help. The last parent is harder to wind down, especially if your name doesn't match one on the accounts.

My mother added me to certain accounts before she passed to make it all easier. For instance, her safe deposit box wouldn't have been relinquished to me until the death certificate was presented, but since I was on the account I had authorization to just empty and close it. This was especially helpful because I didn't live in her area, and it was going to take a month or so for the death cert to be created.

- Be especially kind to yourself, and don't worry if you're more forgetful or tired or grouchy or likely to drink or whatever. Grief does strange things to us, and some of them are physiological.

Best of luck to you and your family.
posted by nadise at 2:34 PM on January 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

It took me a long time to be able to get to sleep properly, even months afterwards. Just keep telling yourself that grief takes as long as it takes. I'd be having a completely decent week and then some random person would say "Sorry about your dad" and I'd just lose it. The toughest thing for me was figuring out the weird random maintenance things he had managed (in his house which we took over). Things like "the generator gets serviced in November" or "The gutters need to be oiled on the fourth of july" It can take a year (or two) before you get used to the whole cycle of things. bills that he only paid once a year, that sort of thing. It might help to have a small annual calendar thing that you put these things on (f you have a digital calendar, fine, if not, also fine).

I found it very helpful to keep his email account open and use it for the occasional business contact thing I needed to do (as opposed to closing it all out immediately).

Also if your mom is serious about downsizing you can do some of HER downsizing stuff at the same time as you pare down your dad's garage o' junk.

Not 100% sure how this works in Australia but in the US it's usually useful to have a child be a co-owner of a bank account with a parent (if they trust you and that works for you) because then you can take over the accounts right after they pass and don't have to wait for working it out with power of attorney. Also get a healthcare proxy thing set up with your mom, etc.

Depending on your cultural/religious traditions, you may have a memorial service or funeral at some future time. We did a "celebration of life" thing, had everyone contribute photos and gave people directions to the cemetery where my father was buried so they could go when they felt like it, we did the actual burial family-only. I asked a lot of people as we were setting up those events "Who else should we be getting in touch with?" and that was useful to find people who we weren't particularly close with but were close with my father.

Sorry for your loss, be kind to yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 3:54 PM on January 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sorry for your loss. Maybe this isn't a problem in Australia, but in the the US the scam artists strike after a death. People start calling claiming the deceased owned them $5000 from a car accident, or whatever. If your mom, like a lot of elderly, is susceptible to falling prey to these kind of things be extra wary.
posted by COD at 4:20 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

In the US power of attorney ends on the death of the person. You have to get separate powers as executor of the estate which requires both the death certificate and the probate process legally started. So some of the that stuff will need to wait. I assume your parents had joint accounts that your mother can use to pay expenses while that is getting set up.

On a practical note, get a large shoe box and small notebook to keep track of things that will need thank you notes. Make sure that you save the envelope with any condolence cards so you have the return address. Use the notebook to jot anything that someone does for your family that you will want to acknowledge later. (Help with set up, sending flowers or food, making donations) In my family, these can be written by anyone in the family, on behalf of either your mother or the whole family as appropriate) This means that you can delegate the task to other relatives as much as your mother will allow.
posted by metahawk at 5:03 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cancel magazine subscriptions. It's hard to see them show up with his name on them. Take your time: losing a parent is hard and you find yourself doing things that don't seem normal and that's ok.
posted by kerf at 5:50 PM on January 1, 2017

I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm in Queensland and lost my father in 2014. One thing we didn't realise until much later was that we had to contact the titles office (or whatever it's called) to update the title on the properties my parents had jointly owned. We only discovered this when we went to see an elder care lawyer a few months ago on a tangentially related matter; I recommend seeing someone like that if you are at all uncertain about any of the financial or legal matters. Also make sure to get an updated EPoA and advance health directive for your mother if necessary, and prepare a new will for her (although her existing will probably covers this circumstance, it's still a good idea imho).
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 6:28 PM on January 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Deepest ccondolences, we had to deal with this in 2016.

The funeral home that we went with was amazing - and they provided an extensive checklist of who needs to be contacted (government, banks, &c) and what paperwork they need to be presented with; and they acquired the sufficient number of each of those certificates plus one.

The requirements will differ a little bit by jurisdiction.

There generally isn't a huge rush, and we found it easier to deal with one at a time, over several weeks.

Take time for your mother and yourself and engage in self care as much as you can. Sorting through my dad's stuff was really hard for everyone - I ended up "claiming" a lot of stuff and getting rid of it because my mom had a hard time letting go. For that matter, I had a hard time letting go, too.

All the best.
posted by porpoise at 6:49 PM on January 1, 2017

When my Mother died, I arranged to get copies of her credit reports. Aside from reducing my anxiety that there might be some big hidden problem, the reports provided a checklist of accounts to close down. One thing I wish I'd done earlier was sending copies of the death certificate to the credit agencies, asking them to put a "deceased - no new credit" flag on her file. Along those lines, keeping a shredder nearby when sorting through paperwork is surprisingly therapeutic. A HEPA filter was also great for dealing with the dust that got kicked up sorting.

A bit of organization that I wish I'd done better was to keep a _single_ notebook for recording checklists, who I'd talked with about what (and when), and for recording expenses. Assembling that info later from disparate sources was a nuisance, and I never did shake the feeling that I'd lost a vital note.
posted by dws at 7:34 PM on January 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss. You've thought through a lot of the logistics and gotten some great recommendations here. Just make sure you don't get so wrapped up in the tasks that need to be done that you don't take care of yourself emotionally. Same goes for your mum, she just lost someone she had by her side for most of her life. She may not process this the same way as you and that's ok but you'll need to be there for each other.
posted by jshort at 10:36 AM on January 2, 2017

Also, allow yourself to take a break when you need it and spend time doing something you find soothing.
posted by jshort at 10:37 AM on January 2, 2017

Thank you all for your helpful suggestions and your kind words - I haven't had a chance to do more than skim everything so far, but I'll work through the suggestions above over the next few weeks.

I was going to mark best answers and then realised I'd pretty much have to mark everything as best answers (because the are - truly). Brains a little foggy right now, but I'm assuming that that's not one of the MeFi Seven Deadly No No's?
posted by ninazer0 at 2:35 PM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

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